Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Howard Gardner on Mozart's Figaro

"The Disciplined Mind," a book by Howard Gardner from 1999, pleads for consideration of what he considers to be the most essential purposes for education. He articulates three "realms" that he believes "should animate education:" truth, beauty, and morality.

His example from the realm of beauty is a trio from the first act of The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. Gardner admits early in the text that his choices for “realms” are personal and somewhat arbitrary, but by drilling down on his realms in stages throughout the text he creates a model for how an educator might develop their own examples.

Gardner has chosen an opera familiar to music lovers, but one which also presents considerable challenges. The Marriage of Figaro is long, and is one of the most complicated plots in the Mozart canon. Characters assume you know who they are, their backstory, and the nature of their intentions throughout this opera.

"Works of art, wrote Gardner, "call for many forms of understanding, at different levels of sophistication." Gardner asks us to understand the "choice of words," the "narrative sequence," and the way in which this opera deals with themes that were controversial at the time. He also asks us to seek to understand the music, "how it was constructed, which effects it achieves, how and why particular examples are wrought."

His presentation is mostly descriptive, and he divides the scene into nine sections. Here are Gardner's nine sections mapped onto the scene in the famous film of the opera by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle:


I. Agenda Setting [0:00]
"Each protagonist reveals goals (to himself or herself and to the audience)."

II. Susanna'a Alarm [0:47]
Gardner segments this section on Susanna's high A-flat where she "captures the attention of the men." A division created by the music rather than the text would start the section at the shift into F minor at [0:32], where Susanna begins to feel anxiety. There could also be a division at [0:58] with the shift into F major as Basilio and the count support her and "try to revive her."

III Recovery [1:25]
This section would also seem to start earlier than Gardner indicates, perhaps with the cadence at [1:16]. He marked the sectional change based on Susanna's first words rather than where the music itself shifts.

IV. Calming Susanna [1:33]
"Another key change, this time back to a stable 'home base' of E-flat."

V. Back to the Page [1:53]
"singing in an apologetic tone, with oboe accompaniment, Basilio backpedals on the gossip that he has been spreading about Cherubino's involvement with the Countess."

VI Banish the Page [2:15]
"All three protagonists refer to the page as 'poverino'--poor lad--in brief duets as well as in antiphonal passages."

VII What did Cherubino do? [2:34]
Gardner includes the "set of rising scalar tones" in which Susanna and Basilio ask the count to explain. Perhaps it would make more sense musically to simply start this section with the count's recitative [2:42] that explains what Cherubino did.

VIII Revelation [3:16]
The Count uncovers Cherubino under the blanket of Susanna's bed. "The orchestra joins in a lengthy A," writes Gardner "one long enough to allow the audience to appreciate the shocking discovery and to laugh heartily."

IX Three Tables Turned [3:19-5:05]
"Susanna, the Count, and Basilio," writes Gardner, "sing simultaneously, revealing their innermost thoughts to themselves and the audience but not, presumably, to one another." In this filmed version of the opera the trio takes place as if only the count was singing, and as if Basilio and Susanna are only thinking their parts.

Gardner challenges his students with this trio. It is a passage that is a mosaic of tightly constructed musical wit.

By using this passage Gardner gives us an example of a disciplined mind at work. It is not only a mind capable of internal rigor and discipline, but also one shaped by the "shopping mall of the disciplines." It is a mind that synthesizes ideas and that values creativity.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...